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Is Ezekiel Elliott worth a top five draft pick in fantasy football?

SB Nation’s team of writers ranked the top fantasy football players heading into 2017. Zeke ranks pretty highly.

NFL: Pro Football Hall of Fame Game-Arizona Cardinals vs Dallas Cowboys Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation’s full guide to fantasy football can he be found here. If you’re playing in a league this year, you will want to take a look.

With the NFL regular season quickly approaching, fantasy football is heating up. The SB Nation team took a look at who is expected to produce big fantasy numbers in 2017.

(SBNation’s fantasy rankings)

Unsurprisingly, Ezekiel Elliott is near the top of the list. The Dallas Cowboys star running back led the league in rushing during his rookie season and was one of the biggest stars in all of fantasy football last season. But, he wasn’t the top running back in the minds of the people making up the panel. Or even the second best, at least in the mind’s of the majority.

Arizona Cardinals’ shifty running back David Johnson and Pittsburgh Steelers’ do-it-all back Le’Veon Bell were both slotted ahead of the 2016 NFL Rushing Champ. On Johnson, the reasoning is that Johnson was likely already the top player heading into the 2017 season. Bruce Arians’ exclamation of wanting to get the ball in his hands more only boosts his status as the top dog.

The Arizona Cardinals running back was already worthy of No. 1 overall status in fantasy football drafts when he was averaging a paltry 23 touches a game in 2016.

But ... 30!?

That, and Johnson's stated goal of rushing and receiving 1,000 yards each this season makes Johnson SB Nation's consensus choice for top overall fantasy football pick in 2017.

Nobody touched the ball more in 2016 than Johnson. No one gained more total yards from scrimmage and no one found the end zone more often. Again ... on 23 touches. And with Carson Palmer not getting any younger or better, it makes sense for the Cardinals to rely even more heavily on their third-year back. Arians promises that even with 20 carries and 10 receptions per game, he will not wear Johnson out or leave him open to injury. Fantasy owners will take him at his word and watch the yards and touchdowns pile up.

Johnson is coming off a pretty scary injury, but his ability to impact the game in a load of different ways makes him a reasonable choice to be the top guy for fantasy owners heading into the upcoming season. The second choice off the board looks to be Le’Veon Bell. Bell, like Johnson, is known to make an impact in the receiving game. His versatility makes him an intriguing choice at the top of the draft.

Le'Veon Bell might not get 30 touches per game, but it's what Bell might get when the season is over that could allow him to challenge Johnson for 2017's most productive player.

Bell, who will play for the Steelers this season under the franchise tag of $12.1 million, will be a free agent in 2018, and that is all the incentive he'll need to put up a monster season. Adding to Bell's attractiveness as our No. 2 overall pick is his potential to play in all 16 games this season — something he has done just once in his first five seasons.

Despite missing four games in 2016, Bell finished third with 1,884 yards from scrimmage -€” 200 yards better than the No. 4 man on the list -- and was just 230 yards shy of Johnson, who played all 16 games. Bell had just five fewer receptions than Johnson, despite Johnson out-targeting Bell 120-96.

Finally, we get to Zeke. The Cowboys’ star rusher led the league in his first season on the professional level. He was a huge reason why America’s Team stormed back into the NFL’s elite tier and won eleven games during the 2016 season. Elliott was ranked as high as the second best player available (one vote) and as low as sixth (two votes). Here is what was said about the second-year star:

The only other running back to make our Top 5 is the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott, who led the league in rushing average as a rookie, was second in yards from scrimmage, and finished third in touchdowns. Elliott, who ranks fourth on our list, could miss a game or two to start the season because of a suspension, but that should not scare owners away, as Elliott looks to follow in Johnson's footsteps and do away with any talk of a sophomore jinx.

Understandably, Zeke’s potential looming suspension may drop his stock a little bit. It’s difficult to know what the NFL will decide to do regarding Elliott’s case and how long he could miss if a suspension is brought down. Nonetheless, Ezekiel Elliott is one of the three best running backs in the National Football League. His vision, speed, and versatility makes him a difficult match up for defenses week in and week out. His ability to pass protect and catch balls out of the backfield makes him even more valuable.

In 2016, Elliott recorded 325.4 points in ESPN’s PPR standard scoring. The NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year runner-up finished fifth overall in points scored last season — only behind David Johnson at the running back position. Here is what ESPN has to say about Zeke’s outlook for this season:

2017 Outlook: Elliott paced the NFL with 322 carries and 1,631 rushing yards while finding the end zone a total of 16 times last season. Not bad for a rookie. Elliott faced an average of 8.0 in-box defenders, which was fifth highest in the NFL. The 2016 fourth overall pick trailed only David Johnson in fantasy points despite being limited to 38 targets (33rd). Elliott's rushing prowess, combined with Dallas' terrific offensive line and run-heavy scheme, will keep him near the top of the running back rankings, but he's in for some regression to the mean in the scoring department (only 11 carries inside the 5-yard line). Elliott also will need more receiving work to maximize his fantasy contributions, which is very possible, following the departure of Lance Dunbar. Elliott is a strong RB1 in all formats and should be upgraded slightly in non-PPR.

While the potential suspension is concerning — both on the field and in the fantasy world — Zeke should have another productive campaign in 2017. Dak Prescott should only continue to get better and Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick still anchor the Great Wall of Dallas. Elliott should receive more opportunities in the passing game, and he has a year of experience under his belt of what to expect on the NFL level.

Ezekiel Elliott is ready to put up big numbers again in 2017. Look out, NFL.

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